The following prose items first appeared in the Facebook forum, “You Know You are From Old-School Pasadena When….” These are brief stories about people and business that I remember fondly and that had an influence on who I am today. They are recycled here because I like them. I hope you do too.
RIDING TRIPLE ON A BICYCLE TO IN-N-OUT
One day back in the 9th grade in 73 when the 210 was still in construction, my friends Jim Hanson, Mark Jorgensen and I decided to ride triple on a bicycle down Craig Ave from Orange Grove to In-N-Out on Foothill. Hanson sat on the handle bars, Jorgensen stood and peddled, I rode on the seat. Hanson and I dangled our legs as Jorgensen worked the peddles–which wasn’t difficult since it was all down hill.
Things were going well until we hit the stretch underneath the half-built freeway bridge–and all the construction debris littering the road with a large trench off to the side. Unfortunately we were going at quite a clip by then. Hanson was doing a poor job of calling out potential hazards to Jorgensen who also had the added responsibility of steering.
We flew into the trench. Hanson and Jorgensen were both slender lads while I probably could’ve started for the varsity football team if I liked taking shit from asshole coaches. I landed on top of them and surfed them both like two Boogie Boards. They didn’t feel like eating hamburgers after that, but they sure did good impressions of ground-beef patties. I didn’t even get my clothes dirty. Years later I confessed to them that I did suffer from survivor’s guilt.
LET’S DO LUNCH AT MCKINLEY BACK IN ’72!
All these Pasadena school stories where hormone-drenched pioneers of desegregation matched wits with cross town counterparts brings to mind Ronny, whom I haven’t thought about in decades even though we spent most of our lunch breaks together as 8th-graders at McKinley Jr. High back in ’72. But we weren’t friends–or were we?
It started out on the asphalt one hot, smoggy noon when I was standing alone because all my friends went to Wilson. This black kid barged up, grabbed my collar and demanded, “What did you call me?” That was my introduction to the kid I later learned was named, Ronny.
Confused since I hadn’t said a damn thing to anyone all day, I responded in the only way I knew: I grabbed his collar and asked as menacingly as I could at 12, “What did you call me?”
Ronny seemed surprised. I could feel his adam’s apple rubbing against my knuckles as he swallowed. He furrowed his brows. I furrowed mine. A gaggle of hyenas surrounded us and urged us to fight. We paid no attention and continued our stare-down. Our audience got bored and left. Soon the bell rang, too.
The next day it began again. This time he grabbed my shirt and accused me of making disparaging remarks about his mama. I immediately reciprocated, and the stalemate unfolded until another black kid sauntered up and told me to let go of Ronny’s collar.
“He’s grabbing mine,” I protested.
“That’s ok,” he answered. “He can grab yours but you can’t grab his.”
Outnumbered, I let go of Ronny’s collar. Satisfied, the other kid walked off. I grabbed Ronny’s shirt again. Ronny looked sideways, but he was on his own again because apparently the other kid found something else upon which to focus attention.
This went on all God damned year. Never once did an adult staff member intervene. Hell, even the other kids got bored and ignored us.
My mom, noticing the condition of my shirts, eventually complained, “Can’t you unbutton your shirts before you take them off?”
Well, finally the academic year drew to a close. Summer passed. On the first day of 9th grade out on the other side of town at PHS–here comes Ronny.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” I replied.
“You go here?”
“Yep. You go here too?”
We awkwardly performed a three-stage hand shake and continued on our way. It must’ve been heart warming to see two old friends exchanging pleasantries at their new school.
CANTO ROBLEDO’S CROWN CITY STABLES
CANTO ROBLEDO’S CROWN CITY STABLES turned out many heavyweights–and good fighters from all weight classes. I wasn’t one of them. No, sir, not by a long shot. But, that deceptively humble little garage with a ring, heavy bags, speed bags, jump ropes, spare gloves, lockers, a shower–and some very dedicated, generous trainers like Eddie Johnson–the place changed lives. It changed mine before my old man refused to let me go back anymore.
My life changed when, after a few training sessions, I got into the ring for my first sparring session. My opponent kind of looked like Richard Ramirez the “Night Stalker,” but he was a cool guy–for a dude who bloodied my nose after 30 seconds. Per Eddie’s instructions I covered and back peddled and threw plenty of jabs to keep my opponent safely away.
After what seemed like an hour, the two-minute round finally ended. Eddie cleaned my nose. Then he looked down and sternly asked, “Do you want to go back in?” I remember looking up at him. He looked like Morgan Freeman if Mr. Freeman had spent years nursing bad habits that will eventually take a toll on a man’s health.
“OK,” I said.
His face lit up and he grinned ear to ear, “Go get ’em Jerry,” he said making a reference to the white heavyweight Jerry Quarry. I don’t remember much about the next round, but I remember that I protected my nose.
I learned that day as a 10th grader I had some bravery in me. I learned getting hit was less painful than quitting. Unfortunately, back at home whenever I was watching boxing on TV the old man would always walk in right when some white guy was getting decked by a black. Pop would remark, “Anybody who’s dumb enough to get in the ring with a (black man) deserves whatever happens to him.” His hints finally turned into a mandate. “You’re not going over there anymore boy. You’re gonna end up looking like a cross-eyed potato.”
My dad is dead now, and I suppose Eddie has passed away, too. I never told either one that I loved them and that they–despite all their dissimilarities–had a profound impact on what I have become today. God bless Canto and the Robledos too. I only worked out there for about three months, but the lessons learned in that garage will last my entire life time.
Back in the early 70s LANITA’S ANTIQUES was on the west side of Allen Ave doors south of Washington Blvd. I don’t know what she sold out of her store, but I know Lanita Cardella was a ravishingly beautiful woman with flowing raven hair who lived with her equally gorgeous teenage daughter in a Mediterranean on the northeast corner of Allen & Woodlyn. I never saw Mr. Cardella, but if she was half as demanding to him as she was to me–her Star News paperboy–he probably said, “to hell with it.” and hitchhiked off to join the circus.
Four times a week she called up my boss, John Lawrence, to complain I forgot her paper. One day I rode down to the boss’s office at Allen & Casa Grande while he was out running a service error, folded up about 30 papers and went back up to Lanita’s and threw them all over her yard, her porch and the roof.
When I arrived back at the boss’s, he was finishing up a phone conversation. “That was Lanita,” he sighed.
“Yeah?” I snickered.
“She thinks you’re nuts.”
To make a long story short, I had to pick up all the papers under the watchful eye of John and the heat of Lanita’s glare while she stood on the front porch in a pink bathrobe, arms folded shaking her head. When I collected later that month she tipped me a buck.
I bet her antiques were rare and expensive.
Speaking of Washington & Lake, back in the early 80s every time I went into THE SKOAL, some sort of aggression/violence transpired. My first visit, I asked the bartender, Stormy, if he had some Drambuie.
“Hell yes, we have Drambuie. We’re a bar aren’t we?” Then he inquired, “What are you, some kind of an asshole?”
Didn’t get better after that. Me and the business manager of the old Altadena Chronicle decided to celebrate printing another edition by drinking a few beers down at the Skoal.
Halfway through our second draught, a huge silhouette at the front entry blotted out daylight. The bleach-blonde barmaid shrieked at the hugest Samoan I’d ever seen, “You better not do anything crazy!” We learned later she was in the middle of jilting his ass but he wanted her back.
Well, the first thing he busted up was the rack holding the pool ques. He took one and smashed up all the mirrors and ads adorning the wall. He tried to lift the pool table, but it was bolted to the floor. We audibly heard his back tear, but that didn’t stop him. Figuring we were moving up on the Samoan’s list of what to bust up, Jim and I got the hell out of there–fast.
One time months later, after I worked up the nerve to go back, tough Eddie Acosta, whose Abuelita ran Acosta’s Bakery around the corner, took umbrage at the attempt by a Woody Allen look-alike trying to hustle him at billiards. Eddie apparently had been well tutored in boxing at Canto Robledo’s Crown City Stables. It wasn’t pretty watching Eddie’s rendition of what a famous author once called “the sweet science.” I found it hard to believe the poor schmuck would dare to hustle Eddie, but I didn’t say anything.
My last night visiting the Skoal, my best friend’s girlfriend at the time, a hot head in her own right, chose off some other vixen inside. We got her out of there since we figured the crowd was going to side with her opponent.
Ah, the Skoal. We hardly even knew ye.
MISS HINCKLEY & HALE ELEMENTARY
Did anyone else in this forum go to George Ellery Hale Elementary in East Pasadena and have the privilege of Miss Hinckley as their 5th grade teacher? She was very strict, but now I remember her fondly. She once told my mother that I had an inflated view of my accomplishments. “He’s his own biggest fan,” she sniffed at a parent-teacher conference.
Even if you didn’t go to Hale you may remember her walking around the snooty areas of our beloved Crown City. Miss Hinckley looked like she was 65 (for a good two decades), and was a slender, diminutive woman with flaming red hair in a perm, walked like she had a 2X4 for a spine, kept her nose in the air and chin high, dressed to the 9s, carried a designer purse–all while strutting purposefully up or down South Lake, along California Blvd and those high-rent apartments, or strolling toward Hale along East Orange Grove after exiting the bus on Allen.
A former buddy looked her up a few years ago and said he found her in a retirement home. He called her but she hung up on him. I don’t blame her. I had to block the racist, neo-Nazi hatemonger here on Facebook. Sometimes it’s best not to reconnect with childhood friends, but that’s another story… VIVA MISS HINCKLEY!
I had a Mrs. Armstrong at Hale in the first grade (64-65.) I remember she caught me drinking out of the “emergency drinking fountain” and grabbed me hard by the arm and muscled me into the room during recess. I never liked her after that.
The “emergency drinking fountain” was outside Room 1 at the far west end of the south corridor. We couldn’t drink out of it unless it was raining; otherwise, we had to use the ones out on the playground. Well, it was a hot day, I was already up in the corridor and she wasn’t around. So I shrugged, “Fuck it,” and helped myself to a slurp. The next thing I know, she’s grabbing my arm like Freddy Blase and muscling me inside. Say, maybe she didn’t like the F-word? jk
How many of you slurred, “Three buksa chiggin please?” at the counter of BILL’S CHICKEN at Mentor & Washington after the bars closed? They should erect a statue of ‘ol Bill right there on the corner. He and his staff must’ve taken a Berlitz class on how to understand drunks.